Don’t insult me; I’m too good at it myself, thank you!
I was introduced to the three insults by Yossi Triest during my studies, when he first introduced us to Freud.
He started off with the three insults that the human kind suffered in history, namely the Copernical revolution, the Darwinistic revolution, and the discovery of the Unconscious – the Freudian revolution.
The latter, in its own right, insults us multiple times. It was hard enough if it was all about me, but it strikes us at the organization level as well. Here’s how.
The first insult: There is an unconscious
To begin with, there is an unconscious. So what, big deal, everyone knows that, you might say. But is knowing enough? The fact of the matter is, that everyone you interact with has an unconscious, that doesn’t want to be known, yet does havoc to the individual. As members of organizations we have a desire that everything will work according to logic and structure. If not everything, then most. How many times have you heard: “It is acceptable to make a mistake – as long as you do not repeat the same mistake twice”. That statement inherently assumes that once we made a mistake, we can consciously learn the lesson, and assimilate the new desired behavior.
So why is it that people keep ‘forgetting’ to check-in? Or let people ‘push their button’ and they lose their temper? Or they do a lousy job just when they prepare a demo to the CEO, although normally they are top-performers?
More often than not, the reason is that unconsciously some internal process brings this behavior about:
They ‘forget’ to check-in because they didn’t get a pay-rise, they are frustrated, and as much as they try to act reasonably, the unconsciously try to get-back at the organization.
When you talk to them you unconsciously remind them of their mother, and the anger that they do not afford themselves to let out on her, comes out on you
Because they work relentlessly to satisfy customers, and deep inside the fact that the demo for the CEO is really important for you, does not impress their unconscious, the little monster within that cares about their own TLC. If you need TLC of your own, says Mr Id, prepare the demo yourself!
But that is part of the story. Because as much as we think of ourselves, the experienced, rational, as in control of our own mind, the fact of the matter is that…
The second insult: I too have an unconscious
It does not help that you know about the unconscious, you have read all the writings of Freud, Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Kohler, Piaget, and you can read them backwards by heart, you too have an unconscious. So do I – and I don’t need to read 0.01% of the available materials to know it.
I too sometimes forget the most important task, or delay things forever. Some of it I can understand, some of it I don’t, and some of it I am not even aware of. It all happens unconsciously, without me, Ilan the person that I am, knowing that I am doing it.
This is not only frightening – this is insulting! I might, and I will sometimes make the same mistake more than once, despite that I have a strong desire never to repeat that mistake again.
I will sometimes forget to mention the person that made the biggest effort in the last sprint – maybe because I am jealous of him or her and their achievements.
I will sometimes be unkind to my own manager – maybe because he or she pissed me off, and I didn’t do anything about it
And if only it was an excuse for me to feel better with myself. Hell no, I will feel guilt; I will feel shame; I will feel diminished. And why? Because my unconscious makes me feel that way. Damn, is there a way out of this?
Yes there is. But you will not like it because…
The third insult: In order to be made aware of my own unconscious, I need others
The unconscious works overtime, but it is invisible to the individual. For example:
Here’s a hypothetical scenario:
My manager really pissed me off in the last appraisals. Since I think the appraisal process is, pardon me, oxen-dung, I decide not to respond. But it was two months ago, so who remembers? (Guess who!)
- My manager: “Can you send me the presentation on this and that? I must have it for the management review at 14:00 today”
- Me (abruptly): “Look, I’m really busy – ask someone else”
- My manager: “Well, someone’s got a chip on their shoulder! Anything I did to upset you?”
(Actually, yes, but who remembers? Same guess!)
Without the interaction with my manager, I would not realize that, unconsciously, I still hold grudge. Moreover, it is easy for me to ‘deposit’ the feelings of aggressiveness and selflessness with my manager, not realizing that I am doing it myself.
In this simplistic scenario above, I describe the concept of projective identification, a mechanism that helps individuals not to deal with the negative aspects of their own by finding their expressions in others. Conversely, finding desired behaviors we wish for ourselves in others.
In organizations this takes place all the time. The Pygmalion Effect that causes individuals the way others expects them to is an indication of a gap in the organization which is hard to integrate – unless it is being made visible.
Sometimes these gaps bring tension that causes things to move in the right direction. However, frequently, it is the other way round; and then the organization veers away from the primary task into sidetracking in various ways (“if only everyone gave more attention to our velocity, everything would work so much better” – is velocity really what you are looking for?)
Reflecting that these gaps exist, and working with them towards integrating the ‘good’ me with the ‘bad’ me that I identify with others – this is something that requires intervention; especially if the organization is now in ‘defensive mode’ and is not attentive to such processes.
Now, as you reach the end of this post, seeing that, like others, I need you to acknowledge my own unconscious: What can you detect that I may have unconsciously tried to say?
Indeed. I often find myself editing to avoid divergence between the message I intended, the message I sent and the one that was received. No matter what, they’re never identical.
Indeed. The unconscious will always find its way out.